September 12, 2013
Competitive, determined, and analytical, Phoenix Bunz brought skills and experiences from a variety of different sports to her start in roller derby. And that was only the beginning. She has contributed--both on the track and off--to the incredible success of the Ohio Roller Girls in the past few seasons, having lead them to the first ever WFTDA Division Playoffs in Fort Wayne, IN, where they came in 2nd Place and will head to 2013 Championships in Milwaukee, WI. Read on to learn more about how Phoenix Bunz has been preparing for tournament season, as well as her plans for next year when she hangs up her skates for good.
What is your derby name? Phoenix Bunz
Please explain the inspiration and story behind your derby name.
It’s nothing too exciting. I liked the story behind the phoenix (the bird), but that name was already taken, so I had to make a play on it. Tacking Bunz on the end seemed like a natural fit.
What is your number?
23!!! One of my basketball coaches gave it to me in fifth grade and I’ve been devoted to it ever since. He recently even gave me my original number 23 jersey. I also have a huge amount of respect and love for Michael Jordan. He was one of my idols growing up and I guess I never outgrew him.
What is your home league? Ohio Roller Girls
Which team(s) do you play on?
We have no home teams. I play on our charter team—the Ohio Roller Girls. Despite lots of prodding and futile suggestions, we have no name beyond that (and we all hate being called the All Stars). However, our B-team does have an awesome name: Gang Green. I’ve moonlighted with Midwest Mega. Hopefully I can get one more games with them under my belt.
What is your skate gear of choice?
I’m never the person to approach for gear advice! I wear Riedell 495 boots and skinny wheels. I do love the toe stops that Atom makes now—I have played 20 games in them and they are not even close to needing to be replaced. Beyond that I’ll wear whatever’s put in front of me. I’m not picky about my wheels or pads. I pretty much buy new wheels and bearings at the start of every season and wear them for everything all year. I realize that I’m probably alone in this, but I can skate just fine on any surface with the same wheels, so I don’t bother swapping wheels in and out—or cleaning them much for that matter—I know all the gear gurus are cringing.
Do you have a pre-bout ritual?
Pre-game for me is about making sure my team is where they need to be and they have all the information they need. It’s all about the logistics. I pride myself on my stomach of steel, so I can eat just about anything on game day. Right before the bout I always do sit-ups and push-ups. They get me in game mode.
What do you think about when you’re lacing up your skates?
I think about being there for my team. Performing in the roles they need me to perform in. I also go through some worst case scenarios. I sometimes put a lot of pressure on myself and it’s important to remind myself that no matter what happens, it’s not that bad. When I’m captain I’m also running through all the things we want to cover before the game—motivational things and logistic stuff. I don’t really get nervous, so usually I’m just excited to get the show on the road.
Do you have a favorite motivational quote?
“Challenge me. Tell me I can no longer fly. Tell me I can’t and I will. I will soar above you and succeed. Challenge me and I will challenge you to disregard what others say about you. To listen to the voice inside to believe in yourself. If you do you can do anything.” –Michael Jordan
Do you have a theme song?
Ha! I’m pretty sure all my teammates know better. I never pick the music.
How did you get involved with roller derby?
When I moved home from college I was looking for a way to be competitive beyond adult recreational sports. I heard about derby popping up, googled it, and tried out for the Ohio Roller Girls. Lucky for me, they looked past my poor mechanics.
What is your pre-derby sports/skating background?
I have no skating background, but sports are in my blood. I grew up with three brothers and a gaggle of neighbor boys, so it was a natural evolution for me to play sports. My only problem was most of the local organizations wouldn’t let me play with the boys. I played soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, track, and volleyball competitively. I eventually had to give up track and volleyball due to competing seasons. Luckily my parents fought for me to continue the other three. There is so much pressure on kids to pick a sport and specialize in it—I’m glad that my parents refused to compromise, and thankful that my coaches reluctantly tolerated my participation in multiple sports. It wasn’t easy to coordinate, but for me it was incredibly fun and rewarding. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to play two basketball games in northern Ohio, a soccer game in central Ohio, and then cap the night off with a softball double header on the east side.
It sounds like you have been an athlete your entire life, from earning 12 varsity letters in high school to playing both softball and soccer in college. Wow! What are some of the specific skills and/or experiences from other sports that you have been able to use in roller derby?
Being involved with so many teams and sports has given me a diverse group of experiences to draw on. Prior to derby I’ve been on an inexperienced team, a veteran team, a rebuilidng team, an undefeated team, a losing team, an incredibly skilled team, a team with no leaders, a team with too many leaders, a championship team and more. Having those experiences has definitely helped me to coach, train and play as OHRG has gone through many of those scenarios throughout my tenure. As OHRG hit certain milestones and obstacles it was helpful for me to be able to reflect on how it played out with my childhood, high school, or college team. Those experiences have certainly better prepared me for the challenges every derby league faces in regards to training and development.
Individually, I think my sports diversification has made me a better player in each sport. Every sport has it own technicalities, but all sports are linked by a certain instinct and mentality. I think I developed those instincts early on, and that single trait is what typically gives me an edge over my opponent. I’ve learned to know where the ball is going before it hits the ground, or who you want to pass to before you make the pass. In derby, I know where you want to go before you know where you want to go—and that instinct comes courtesy of the years I spent training and refining. I take a lot of pride in learning the minor details of sports. Those instincts are what is hard to teach in derby and hard for so many skaters to pick up on as we all start derby so late in life. It’s part of the reason I’m so excited to see where junior derby takes us. This is an amazing sport that has already grown a tremendous amount, but I think junior derby is going to take the level of athleticism to a height we can’t yet fathom.
Please tell us about your rookie year and how you learned to play roller derby.
When I joined OHRG we still had home teams and our travel team played just a limited amount. I was drafted to the Sprockettes, which just happened to be a very young team. That ended up being a perfect fit for me as I got lots of playing time and opportunities to develop. When tryouts for the travel team came up, I put my name in and ended up making the charter. The charter team was always my goal, and I was ecstatic and very driven to get better. I got just a few games in with the charter team and then the league voted to dismantle our home teams and create just two travel teams so we could focus on being more competitive on the national scene. That decision was a huge turning point for our league. I believe it’s turned out to be the right decision for OHRG and largely is why we are where we are now. Shortly after that, I was made captain of our charter team!! I was probably a little young in my derby career to be captain, but I think it worked out. I learned a lot of lessons about leading derby girls that year and think I’ve been a better leader since. Oh and I skated in a purple tutu then!!!
What is your position of choice?
Hmm, that’s tough. I love aspects of both jamming and blocking. It wouldn’t be my preference to play either one exclusively. I typically play one or the other more based on what my team needs and I’m just fine with that.
What is your signature move?
I like to jump the apex when jamming. I’ve done it occasionally while blocking, but it’s not quite as exciting. I think amongst my teammates I’m most known for recycling. As a jammer myself, I know there is nothing more frustrating than thinking you’ve beat someone and you see the exit out, and then they come back up and bring you into the trenches again. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. I’m also the best at clearing a bench and my teammates love me for it.
How would you describe your derby playing style?
Aggressive, passionate, and relentless. I’m always on the attack and I fight for every inch on the track—until an official tells me I have to stop.
You served OHRG as team captain for nearly three years, and were a driving force leading your team to the next level of competition and rankings. What were some of the main decisions made or actions taken that helped your league to achieve this progress?
I think I helped to raise the bar for all of our skaters and they accepted the challenge and responded. I’ve expanded our off-skates sessions and made them more focused, athletic, and challenging. We’ve completely revamped our training schedule and it’s worked well for our league. It helps that we now have our own warehouse. I introduced the status of swinger, playing on both the A and B team, during my first term as captain, and I think that’s helped everyone in the league. I’ve also introduced a peer-driven tiered ranking. It’s important to evaluate yourself and also see where your teammates think you are. I’ve also been in charge of scheduling the last couple of years. It’s no secret that Ohio plays lots of games and it’s also not an accident. I put a lot of time into scheduling the right opponents at the right time of year.
A couple of years ago we also started playing multiple games in a weekend to better prepare for tournaments and tough games—we even occasionally host triple headers so that we play twice in one day. The strength and duration of our season helps prepare us for our toughest opponents. It helps our players that no matter what situation arises we can say, “hey, we’ve been here and done this.” It’s also really nice that after a good or bad performance we don’t have to wait a month before we have another shot to prove ourselves. Pretty much after every game, our focus has to immediately switch to prepping for the next game. Exhausting at times, but we had to figure out a way to break into the top teams and playing lots of games was our avenue. There is no better learning than a game. And our endurance is incredible. Teams will certainly beat us, but it will never be because they wore us out. Much of this was a collaborative effort and I certainly can’t take full credit for OHRG’s success, but it sure was fun to be part of it!
Please share your best derby moment (or moments).
Brewhaha in 2012 was huge weekend. We traveled to Wisconsin with both our teams (something like 22 skaters) and came home with six wins (we stopped in Madison for a double header against the Mad Rollin’ Dolls before heading to Brew). The wins were awesome, but what was more important to me was how we got the job done. Every skater laced up, knew their role, and performed complaint free. There was a job to get done and every skater stood up to make sure it was done right. It was an amazing display of teamwork and I was a very proud trainer. Being awarded MVP was just icing on the cake.
The 2012 North Central Region Playoffs was another weekend that made me so proud of OHRG. We had just come off a really long and great season, and we started off the tournament with an upset and a competitive game with the Windy City Rollers. We followed it up with a not so stellar performance in game 3, but it was the first time it felt like we showed up to compete at play-offs and the first time anyone on the international scene was recognizing that Ohio had the potential to bring it. Being named tournament MVP, alongside my teammate, was a very memorable moment. Despite being individual accolades, I felt like those awards represented our team and what we had done together that year. Though we didn’t win the game we wanted, it was a good capstone to an awesome season.
Congratulations to you and your team for earning a place at the 2013 WFTDA D1 Playoff tournament in Fort Wayne, Indiana (September 6th to the 8th)! How is your team using its previous experience at Playoff tournaments to prepare for this year? What are you doing individually to prepare for this year's tournaments?
Thank you! We are stoked, focused, and hungry! Having been there and been through good games and bad games gives us added confidence. We know what to expect and we know how we need to perform. We don’t do any major overhauling to our game play before Playoffs. We just fine tune and tweak to get us at our best. We are also super excited to have some international representation at our tournament!! We would love the opportunity to play the London Rollergirls or Montréal Roller Derby. Individually I do a lot of off-skates training. I never want to be in a game situation where I don’t feel my best because my legs or lungs are tired—so I’m working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.
[wftda.com note: D1 Playoffs Fort Wayne happened shortly after Phoenix Bunz originally submitted her questionnaire.]
Congratulations to you and your team for your amazing performance at the 2013 WFTDA D1 Playoff tournament, taking home second place and earning a spot at the WFTDA Championships in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (November 8-10)! How are you and your team preparing for this next round of competitive play?
Thank You! We are stoked to have earned the opportunity to play at Champs! Many of us have been attending as fans for years and are so excited to get to be among the athletes this year! We are going to continue doing what we always do- Practicing a lot and doing lots of cross training. Play-offs were full of stiff competition and our opponents definitely gave us some things to work on. We are determined to continue making ourselves better and hope to come out in November as a stronger, faster, smarter, more cohesive team. Congrats to Denver and London! We can't wait to see who else will be competing in November.
What are some of your greatest roller derby accomplishments on the track?
OHRG qualifying for the region playoffs in 2011 was huge for us! That year was a turning point in our training and schedule and it was nice to see the hard work not only pay off, but ignite further drive and progress. Gaining the respect of my teammates has always been my highest priority. As captain I’ve always said your respect means way more to me than your fondness. It’s a tough balance of coach, captain, teammate, peer, and friend, and being captain means your decisions aren’t always the most popular, but they must be fair, consistent, and in the best interest of the team. I’m far from perfect, but I do think I’ve garnered the respect of my teammates over the past six plus years, and that’s something I’m very proud of. Also, being named MVP of our league. My leaguemates see me day in and day out. They see the good, bad, and ugly, not just one performance. For them to say that despite all that, you represent the league the way we think it should be, on and off the track, is a huge honor. Being named MVP blocker of the North Central Region Playoffs last year was a surreal moment. There is an incredible amount of talent at the WFTDA tournaments, and I never expected to be recognized among them. I was just doing everything I could to put my team in a position to win.
Off the track?
Who are your derby heroes?
There are so many people I have respect for in the derby world. But, the people who hold jobs within their leagues and make sure the business stuff gets done top my list. We would all love to just skate, but if the business doesn’t get done, then none of us get to skate. Within our own league, I think Amy Spears deserves some huge kudos. She has her hands in so many aspects of our business and I think she has made the most significant contribution to our organization’s success.
We understand that OHRG recently announced that they have retired your number, and you will be hanging up your skates after tournament season with your team. We’re sad to hear this. What prompted your decision to retire? What are your post-roller derby plans?
It’s true, this is my last season skating. It’s bittersweet and I’ll definitely miss the competition. My league retiring my number is amazing!! Beyond the age of 10 I never dreamed I’d be the proud owner of a retired number. I’ve been doing this for more than six years and Scott and I decided it was the right time to move on. Everyone thinks I’m going to immediately pop out a baby, but that’s not exactly true. I have a list of to-dos before that can happen. We plan to spend more time traveling, become more regular runners, compete in some half marathons, get more involved in the community, spend more time with my nieces and nephew, and spend more time with the people we’ve neglected over the last seven years. We are also finishing up our scuba certification and have some big dives planned—as long as I don’t get scared away by sharks. We have a lot of crazy aspirations and can’t stay stagnant for long, so I’m not really sure where our post-derby life will take us; I just know it will be somewhere fun. I also have some ambition for getting junior derby going here in Columbus if I can find the time. In the meantime, I’m trying to slow down and enjoy the time with my team. We still have goals left to accomplish and I’m not checked out yet.
What is your day job? And how, if at all, has it contributed to your experience of roller derby?
I’m an actuarial pricing specialist for Nationwide Insurance. Math stuff. I’m not sure my day job does much for my derby skills, but it has benefited me on the business side of the league. I’m also fortunate that I work for a great company that promotes life-work balance and has a gym on campus that I can utilize daily. They also never give me a hard time for taking time off to play derby.
How has your involvement in roller derby affected the way you live the rest of your life?
I’m not sure it’s affected the way I live my life, but it has affected the people that are in my life. Derby is what brought Great Scott into my life, and that has positively changed my life forever. It’s also brought lots of lifelong friends into my life that I likely would never have met otherwise.
How do you find a balance between your derby life and your “real” life?
I refuse to get a smart phone. As mentioned, I’ve always had to balance lots of activities and responsibilities, so multi-tasking is just a part of my life. Lots of practice has made me really good at compartmentalizing and to-do lists and calendars are my lifeline. But, I’d be lying if I denied that derby seeps into all aspects of life. When you are passionate about something, it’s hard not to insert it in many conversations and analyze it when you should be sleeping. A derby brain is hard to turn off. I do make sure I give myself time away from practice every week and ignore most emails on the weekend.
What advice do you have for girls who want to join roller derby?
Do it!!!! And when you join, talk to people and introduce yourself. Don’t wait for someone to come to you and ask your name or what you are good at. Bring that to the table yourself. Derby is incredibly rewarding, but it comes with a lot of hard work. Be prepared to put in the work.
Do you have a special message to your fans?
I have fans???
Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
Of course! My league is amazing! They are all fantastic leaguemates, teammates, and friends. I’ll always treasure the time I shared with them. Board members everywhere! It’s a tough and rewarding job. My husband. He’s incredibly patient, kind, loving, and supportive. I’m a lucky girl.
Real. Strong. Athletic. Revolutionary.